Tuesday, 11 September 2018

FESTIVAL REVIEW: The Long Road - Leicestershire. Friday 7th to Sunday 9th September 2018

Bold, brash and brave; The Long Road has announced itself on the festival scene with an explicit message and an eagerness to succeed. Across its spacious surroundings in south Leicestershire, the coalface of the project was unveiled and folks from far and wide embraced an opportunity to delve into a diverse representation of what comes under the expansive banner of country, roots and Americana music. Bumps in the road appeared (including a certain last minute headache) and like all new events, lessons learned will reap rewards. However, memories flourished and the steep learning curve of embracing an extended family became more attainable for the organisers.

Criticisms of which strand of the genre was missing will never wane and no doubt continue to be a decision factor to whether fans wish to impart with their hard earned cash on a September outdoor event. The alternative positive course of action is to embrace what is on offer, and in that category the festival curators served up a healthy portion of exceptional acts. From a personal perspective (which is the crux of an independent blogging view), the scheduling of over twenty five acts which I would gladly pay for in the stand-alone gig format inspired the proverbial ‘kid in a sweetshop’ analogy. With that starting point intact, the chances of the event not living up to expectation hovered around zero.

The strength in depth often lies in the artists you did not manage to catch over the weekend. Although, in a festival where the the motive was to embrace all, there was still plenty of artists lacking personal appeal, and will likely remain so, such is the seemingly exponential pool of fledgling performers meeting my template criteria.

If you subscribe to the notion that a festival is ultimately judged by the quality of the music, then The Long Road can have a full salute. There is every faith that this will continue as the event heads towards year 2, and hopefully onwards.

Looking back over the weekend, the intention of this article is not to dwell too much on the artists, other than to conclude with a stellar list of twenty sets seen from a line-up rare in its wide reaching quality for a single multi-act event.

Away from the music, the fire of creativity was burning fierce especially in the intrinsically reproduced honky tonk and a front porch stage as iconic in its picturesque status as you could envisage. Plenty of covered viewing space away from the main stage (one key aspect though that followed the standard festival blueprint) had the opposite effect of chasing away any forecasted rain, although the oversubscribing of the Interstate ‘tent’ and rather impressive honky tonk reconstruction was pertinent at times.

Indeed, the size and layout of the Interstate is something to consider. It is tough to be too harsh on decisions made ahead of an inaugural staging, but feedback will no doubt hone in on this part of the site. On the other hand, to issue the festival a few improvement notices, a revised look at ‘access for all’ in the Interstate should be called for. Joining this is the absurd policy of not allowing customers to bring in some remnants of personal food, and not being consigned to the usual array of overpriced festival offering and their limited approach to quality. Also perplexing was not going down the progressive route of reusable glasses. If Maverick, Beardy Folk and Cambridge can do it, why not The Long Road. Hopefully, these considerations can lift the event overall to the high standards set in terms of artist scheduling and the innovative approach to creativity.  

The resounding success in these last two areas has already inked The Long Road into the 2019 diary. Whether the commendable aspiration of uniting the ‘country family’ is achieved or not, this festival has scored highly on multiple accounts and anticipation to how it evolves is eagerly awaited. Only the marketing fraternity can pretend to predict the extent of a still niche corner of the music market, but those of us without any stake can at least sit back and revel in a pulsating weekend of exceptional music that was absolutely to my taste.

Long Road in Twenty Sets (You decide the order, but they all possessed merit)

Lee Ann Womack: Angaleena Presley (Interstate): Joshua Hedley: The Lone Bellow: Elizabeth Cook: Danny and the Champions of the World: Caroline Spence: Folk Soul Revival (Honky Tonk): Parker Millsap: Brent Cobb: The Wood Brothers: Dori Freeman (Front Porch): Dori Freeman (Honky Tonk): Jarrod Dickenson: Kashena Sampson (Showground): Ruby Boots (Interstate): Gary Quinn: Erin Rae: Case Hardin: Aaron Watson (the finale!)

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